How many guests will you have for Thanksgiving dinner? Six? Twenty? Betty Cain is expecting to feed more than 200, including dinners sent to homebound residents and those delivered to two senior citizen residences in the community.
"I can't ever say. We just prepare for 250," said Cain on the expected turnout at Lansdowne United Methodist Church Thursday. "We can always freeze what's left over."
Cain was inspired by the annual Thanksgiving feast hosted by Arbutus United Methodist Church, where church member Darryl Groszer has organized dinners that now serve up to 300 people, for 20 years.
Volunteers at both local churches will be up to their elbows preparing turkeys and all the trimmings in the days leading up to Thanksgiving. Then, each group will serve a traditional groaning board of turkey for hundreds of people.
Groszer spends weeks organizing supplies, ordering and collecting food and corralling his loyal support group to help with cooking, serving and cleanup.
"There's no way I could do this myself," he said.
But it's worth all the effort.
"We serve a lot of people who might otherwise have not had a Thanksgiving dinner, or a meal for the weekend," he said.
Cain can take such a gigantic undertaking in stride. She's used to feeding dozens during the Lansdowne church's evening meals for the community.
Volunteers staff the Lansdowne church's kitchen twice a month preparing for free evening meals, in addition to the regular church suppers and making dinner for the congregation of Christ Church of the Deaf in Arbutus one Sunday a month.
It only seemed natural to extend their hospitality to Thanksgiving.
Cain went to the church council to request permission to serve their own Thanksgiving dinner.
"Arbutus has one," Cain remembered saying. "Why can't we give one? There are people who don't have anywhere to go."
Cain herself can recall days of empty stomachs when her own children were small.
"I've been hungry," she said.
After the church council gave its blessing, Cain and her kitchen crew got to work.
Cain admits she is not a professional cook. But having been raised in the country and often having a dozen or more people to feed every day, she's learned some tricks of the trade.
"You can take a little bit of nothing and make a meal out of it," she said, lamenting the lack of cooking skills among the microwave generation.
"Don't ask us how we do it," she said. "But we do."
The food comes from a variety of sources.
Southwest Emergency Services, which is based on the Shelbourne Road campus of Arbutus United Methodist, provides some.
The food pantry at the nearby St. Clement's Catholic Church shares its resources.
"We all work together," Cain said.
Turkeys are donated.
Some come from Christ the Solid Rock Baptist Church, which buys the turkeys for holiday meal as well as for other church suppers throughout the year.
"They know our church will provide whatever they need," said Jackie Jones, a member of the church on Hammonds Ferry Road.
Jones, owner of the Corner Florist in Lansdowne, and her husband, Fred, help with deliveries.
They said their "mission-minded church" supports a number of ministries in the community.
"We do whatever we can," she said.
Bread comes from a nearby bakery that would otherwise throw it away.
Produce collected all through the summer was blanched and frozen so it would be available through the winter.
Potatoes come from the Society of St. Andrew, a program that collects potatoes rejected by commercial markets and food processors.
Some things they buy. Pies, pumpkin and maybe sweet potato, come from Costco.
"I can't bake them for $5.99," Cain said.
The usual kitchen volunteers will spend Tuesday in the church kitchen cooking turkeys, Cain said.
As with any Thanksgiving feast, timing is everything. Vegetables are prepared for cooking and turkey is sliced on Wednesday. Mashed potatoes and the gravy are the only items on the menu made fresh on Thanksgiving morning.
The crew will arrive by 8 a.m. so dinner's ready when the first guests arrive three hours later. Enough volunteers come to serve that the kitchen crew can take a break during the actual dinner.
Cain said she counts on helpers from Catonsville United Methodist Church every year.
"Whoever shows up, I put them to work," she said.
That includes Jackie Waldman, who heads the church's outreach efforts, and her husband Doug, a trustee.
"Whatever anybody needs me to do, I do," Jackie Waldman said.
After all that cooking and serving, the volunteers will gather with their own families to share Thanksgiving at the church dinner or later.
"My whole family comes and eats," said Cain, who hosts another family gathering at her house the following Sunday for a family Thanksgiving.
In Arbutus, the church's dinner has become Groszer's family Thanksgiving dinner, too.
They get together at the end of the day for coffee and pie and make plans for a weekend get-together, he said.